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How to commission an evaluation

The Evaluators' Collective / Evaluation  / How to commission an evaluation

How to commission an evaluation

As the former Chief Evaluator for the Commonwealth Department of Social Services, I quickly developed extensive experience as the commissioner of 25 external evaluations and chair of the assessment panels. Here is a series of questions that will help you to clarify the purpose of commissioning an external evaluation?

1. What is the program (or suite of programs) under review?

  • Are the program purpose, objectives and available datasets known and documented
  • Is all program documentation (including previous evaluations) available?

2. Is the program ongoing or terminating?

  • If the program is ongoing what are the funding and reporting timeframes that will guide the timeframe for the evaluation?
  • If the program is terminating this means decisions have already been made and I would ask the question “what benefit will be derived from an evaluation at this point?”

3. What is the level of sensitivity of the program under review?

  • If the program is considered high risk, should the evaluation be conducted by an independent, external consultant?
  • If the program is considered medium risk, should the evaluation be prepared by the organisation and review by a panel of internal/external experts?
  • If the program is considered low risk, should the evaluation be conducted internally by another section of the organisation?

4. As the commissioner, what methodology would you like adopted for the evaluation?

  • Do you want to be prescriptive and clearly articulate the methodology? Perhaps repeating the methodology from the last evaluation.
  • Do you want to be descriptive and invite external consultants to design a methodology that will suit their capacity, technical skills and meet the criteria within the Request for Quotation/Tender?

5. What is the governance structure for the evaluation?

  • Is there a governance structure and committee system that this evaluation needs to feed into?
  • How will the finding or recommendations that emerge from the evaluation be used or woven into the next program delivery?
  • Who will be responsible to ensure this occurs?


Lyn Alderman